Roland Berger CEO Charles-Edouard Bouée
Forget about doomsday: AI is just another tool

Think:Act magazine "On being human"
Forget about doomsday: AI is just another tool

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Think:Act Magazine

Munich Office, Central Europe
November 26, 2018

Roland Berger’s Charles-Edouard Bouée on being human in an era of AI tech and machine intelligence

The term "artificial intelligence" (AI) has its 63rd birthday this year. On August 31, 1955, US mathematician and computer scientist John McCarthy along with Marvin Minsky, specialist in neural networks, Nathaniel Rochester, expert in radar and computers, and Claude Shannon, inventor of the first mathematical theory of information, organized a working seminar that mentioned the idea of artificial intelligence for the very first time:

"We propose that a two-month, 10-man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve the kinds of problems now reserved for humans and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer."

McCarthy and his colleagues wanted to grasp the groundbreaking and controversial scientific concept of machine intelligence and address its ability to imitate human intellect even though the intricacies of how the human brain functions were still unknown at the time. Back then, many scientists were uncomfortable with the very idea of machine intelligence.

The Dartmouth Seminar played a big part in allaying some of those fears and laying the foundations for future AI research: the learning ability of machines, their mastery of language and the reproduction of complex decision trees as well as the understanding of random logic. The general idea that has proved true was that the computer, the new magical object of the 20th century, would influence how humans think and work. The fear was that it was only a matter of time before it replaced humans for tasks that went beyond mere calculation.

By putting together two seemingly contradictory words, "intelligence" (supposed to be specific to humans) and "artificial" (not specific to human beings), McCarthy inadvertently led us to believe that human intelligence was competing with another form of non-human intelligence, potentially more powerful and therefore threatening. This "Frankenstein complex" in which man is defeated by his own creation not only fed science fiction literature and films throughout the 20th century but it also fueled our fear of AI. Thus, even though we rationally understand that the social and economic benefits from artificial intelligence will be indisputable – a drastic reduction in the number of road accidents, hyperprecision, speed and reliability in cancer diagnosis, pollution control, increase in agricultural yields – we let ourselves be intimidated by the doomsday scenarios where AI destroys jobs or accesses our personal data for malicious use.

For that reason it would now be more accurate to talk about "human augmented intelligence" to understand the way we will be supported and equipped by artificial intelligence to make better decisions. This "human augmented intelligence" revolution will come in about a decade when portable and personal AI forms will be available for us to use on a daily basis – just like we use our smartphones. All the major AI players are engaged in this race. Within society, the effects will be massive, and beneficial. We will no longer have to hand over our data to digital monopolies in order to gain access to goods and services because our augmented intelligence, which knows our tastes perfectly well and which will not sell our data for targeted advertisements, will be able to look for the right information by itself and connect us with the relevant parties. The days of "fake news" will be over too as our augmented intelligence will be able to instantly check the information source and its reliability.

On the professional front, we will all become augmented workers, liberated from the mind-numbing tedium of most of the repetitive and low value-added tasks that we do today. That will free us up to focus on things that require creativity. By this point, there will be no doubt that human intelligence will be augmented, rather than challenged, by machines, which is probably what McCarthy and his colleagues had in mind all those years ago.

Charles-Edouard Bouée

Charles-Edouard Bouée is the global CEO of Roland Berger. He has written a number of groundbreaking books on modern management and China – where he lived for over a decade. One of his latest works, "La chute de l'Empire humain", about artificial intelligence, was published in 2017.

It is only natural to feel overwhelmed by this digital whirlwind. After four successive technological revolutions – the personal computer, the mobile phone, the internet and the smartphone – the human augmented intelligence revolution is set to shake our daily lives to the core as well as our economies and our societies. Once that happens, the technological changes witnessed over two generations will have been greater than everything humanity has known until now. These evolutions should be seen as part of a long-term process. Ever since the first caveman sharpened a flint, humanity has defined itself by its capacity to "augment" and equip itself with tools to better manage its environment.

We urgently need to create a positive understanding of our future in the age of human augmented intelligence. Companies will have a key role to play in this regard – because it is in these companies that AI tools will be deployed, integrating themselves, step by step, in the management systems we use every day. Our collaborators will discover how much they can gain if they let themselves be "augmented" not only as workers, but also as consumers and even as citizens. It is up to us, the business leaders, to be the ambassadors of this human augmented intelligence, by integrating this challenge in our HR process, in our internal communication, in our training sessions. Let us demonstrate that, more than ever, men and women are the masters of their destiny.

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On being human


In this issue of Think:Act magazine we examine in detail what it means to be human in our complex and fast changing world now and in the days to come.

Published November 2018. Available in
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Portrait of Think:Act Magazine

Think:Act Magazine

Munich Office, Central Europe